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5 Tips for Choosing the Best Communication Method

How and when you choose to use calls/text/emails in your personal life is your own decision and is a matter of personal preference. In the business world however, I believe in adhering to a few simple guidelines to ensure your points are heard, actioned and that you are making the right impression. This is my opinion (not fact) but I have seen enough mistakes repeated to warrant sharing these suggestions here.

1. When you need to tell someone something right now, and it has consequences or requires discussion, use synchronous communication. CALL them, as early as you can. Don't text, don't email. Leave a voicemail if you miss them. If you want to additionally send a text, OK, but try to call first. If something is important and you did not reach the other party, you should assume they will NOT get your voicemail OR your text and plan your retries accordingly. Avoid stalker-dialing, but you need to retry a sane amount of times if it really is that important and time-sensitive. Examples: Telling someone you cannot honor an appointment because something has come up; warning someone of an impending issue; ensuring continuous coverage for an issue/coordinating handoffs.

"Calling for a one-word, non-urgent answer is an unneeded interruption."

2. If you have a non-urgent yes/no/short answer question, a conversational short-message medium is fine. Use text/Skype/Facebook Message/IM/etc. But standardize. We use Skype IM or texting at Syrinx, with a preference for Skype IM. Emailing for a one-word answer to something non-urgent is probably overkill, unless you need to document that answer. Calling for a one-word answer to something non-urgent is an unneeded interruption. Texts are also great for sending well-formatted addresses so that people on mobile can click on them and open GPS, i.e. "We are at Panera, 165 Highland Ave, Needham, MA". They are also good for "Hey, we are on the conference bridge, are you joining? (781) 555-1212 pin 7272# or let me know if you can't make it." That phone number should be clickable for the recipient, so format it like (781) 555-1212 or 7815551212, NOT 781.555.1212 or 781/555-1212.

3. If I have not texted someone for a long time, or I am texting them for the first time, or I am relatively sure they do not have my name saved along with my number, I am likely to put my name in the text message. A few times I had people lose their phone, they did not recover all their contacts, and then I texted out of the blue and they wondered who the heck it was. In those instances, I think an intro is warranted: "Hey it's Andrew. Do you know if Jake is going to the meeting @ headquarters on 6/18?"

4. If you have larger thoughts that you need to memorialize and keep a copy of, use email. Don't send 300+ character texts. Don't count on everyone having the same recollection of a verbal conversation. Recap salient points of phone calls/con calls (and in-person meetings) in an email to document what was said and by whom. Not a novel but some quick bullets recapping decisions.

"Put a face with the name."

5. When to meet in-person versus a WebEx or con call - Early in any business relationship, meet in person a few times if you can. Shake hands. Put a face with the name. Discuss important things. Talk about a few non-work things too. Develop a level of trust. Maybe even share a meal or a round of golf or some activity. Once you all know each other then saving travel time with a con call or WebEx MOST of the time is great. You still might want to sprinkle in some face-to-face meetings, especially if we're talking a duration of years here. Skype video calls are better than con calls or WebEx for communicating with some feeling, but they are not equivalent to meeting in person.

And remember to be polite 99% of the time in all mediums. Please. Thank you. You're welcome. Verbally and in emails. Texting/IM may be less formal, and constantly replying back with one-word emails "Thanks!" is probably overkill, but err on the side of being polite. A little kindness won't kill you.